Miami’s defense poses significant challenge to Georgia Tech offense

Georgia Tech quarterback Haynes King (10) gestures to his receiver during the second half of an NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Daniel Varnado/ For the AJC)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Georgia Tech quarterback Haynes King (10) gestures to his receiver during the second half of an NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. (Daniel Varnado/ For the AJC)

With all the talk this week inside the Edge Center swirling around changes to the Georgia Tech defensive coaching staff, the team’s offense better come ready to play Saturday as well.

The Yellow Jackets will face one of the ACC’s best defenses - and arguably the best defense they have faced the season - when they take the field against No. 17 Miami (4-0, 0-0 ACC). The Hurricanes have allowed just 50 points in four games – including 33 in their win over Texas A&M Sept. 9.

“They’re well-coached,” Tech quarterback Haynes King said. “They’re gonna blitz. They’re gonna play well up front. And they’re gonna pursue the ball, play with physicality and they’re gonna play fast. They’re a well-coached football team, that’s as simple as you can put it right there.”

King, the former Texas A&M quarterback who didn’t play in the Aggies’ 17-9 win over Miami last season, has been part of a Tech offense that has been impressive through five games. Among ACC teams, only Miami and Louisville have averaged more yards of offense per game than the Yellow Jackets and only Louisville is throwing the ball better than Tech’s 300 yards per game.

Leading the ACC in total offense (331.2 yards per game), total touchdowns (16), passing yards (1,480) and passing touchdowns (15), King has directed a unit that has scored 162 points, Tech’s most through five games since the 2018 squad totaled 182 points.

“They’re explosive and they throw the ball as good as anybody and they’re very accurate in what and how they throw it, when they throw it, who they throw it to,” Miami coach Mario Cristobal said this week. “They stretch the field vertically and horizontally. They do a great job with shifts and motions. Present a lot of eyewash to try to get you and catch you in some eye violations or whatnot.

“They do a great job getting downhill in their running game in the form of counter, wide zone, tight zone, slips, pitching the ball to the perimeter. They’re challenging. Their changing of pace presents some issues as well. And they do a great job up front. (Tech coach Brent Key’s) an offensive line coach by trade. So, obviously, that’s an area of emphasis for them. They do a good job beating people up at the line of scrimmage and they’ve done that this year.”

Despite Cristobal’s kind words for Tech’s offensive line and ground game, the Jackets are coming off their worst performance of the season running the ball. They managed just 69 yards on 21 carries (a 3.29 yards per rush average) against Bowling Green and 28 of those 69 yards came on King keepers or scrambles.

That doesn’t bode well for Tech in Saturday’s matchup given that Miami has the nation’s best rush defense. The Hurricanes are allowed only 48 yards per game and no opponent has rushed for more than 97 yards this season against defensive coordinator Lance Guidry’s crew.

Georgia Tech coach Brent Key said Tuesday some of the issues with getting the Tech rushing attack to be more consistent comes down to missed reads and assignments as much as it does poor blocking.

“We had 13 (called) runs last Saturday (against Bowling Green). It was kind of feast or famine. That’s kind of what we’re looking at right now,” he said. “That’s when I talk about some of the complementary things and complementary runs or edge stuff, that goes along with them. We’ve got to continue to explore and get better at it.”

Miami’s defense, as good as it has been, gets even better this week with the return of Kamren Kinchens, who hasn’t played since suffering an injury in the Texas A&M game. A junior who was a first team All-American in 2022, Kinchens picked off three passes in a 35-14 Miami win inside Bobby Dodd Stadium last November.

Other defensive standouts for the Hurricanes include senior defensive back Te’Cory Couch (three interceptions) junior defensive lineman Thomas Gore (two sacks, four tackles for loss) and linebacker Francisco Mauigoa (team-leading 18 tackles.)

Miami held Tech to 14 points and 129 rushing yards in the 2022 meeting. It also picked off four passes. Of course, the 2023 team has a vastly different offense, one intent on putting its best foot forward Saturday.

“They got a great football team, but so do we,” Tech wide receiver Christian Leary said. “We just got to come to play. Execution is the biggest thing. We can’t really make too many mistakes.”